A tenant called recently, deeply and powerfully upset. The landlord had put a camera outside her house, and she was convinced that it was filming her. As it turns out, the landlord was filming the courtyard because there had been a small crime there recently, and he wanted to do his best to keep his residents safe. The tenant could have avoided months of turmoil if she had felt like she had good tools for knowing how to communicate with her landlord. In fact, so many of the tenant-landlord problems that we see could be dealt with very effectively if the tenants and landlords could just communicate better with one another. Of course, you have options if the talking isn't successful (small claims court, and complaints to DATCP), but sometimes it’s a good idea to give it a try. But how?
1. Think about it before you go in. Most of these are things you should NOT say out loud in your conversation, but they’ll make you feel calmer when you’re talking, to know the limits of what you’re willing to accept. Here are some things to ponder:
- What do the laws say? You’ll feel more comfortable going into a conversation if you’re pretty clear what the other party is required to do, and what they are not required to do. Contact the TRC if you have questions about what you are and are not required to do.
- What are the limits on what you’re willing to accept? How far are you willing to go to reach a solution?
- What steps are you willing to take if you don’t come to a resolution? Tenants, will you be able to move out? Landlords, would you be willing to evict the tenant or try to find a new one? Think about it all the way through – would you have the capacity to take those actions?
2. Start with a positive statement. It’s harder for the other person to say bad things about you, if you start off with something nice. (Don’t say anything that implies that person was doing something terribly before. For example, “Wow! Did you lose weight??” is an awful question because it tells the other person that you thought he/she was fat before). Smile, and try:
- I love those flowers out front.
- Cool t-shirt. Did you see that band play?
- Did you have a nice weekend?
3. Ask a question. Open up your conversation with a neutral question, something along the lines of:
- “It seems like we've had a lot of miscommunication about ___. I’d really like to know how you’re thinking about [this problem].”
4. Listen to the other person. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. Sometimes, it feels like listening means that we agree with the other person, and it really doesn’t have to be that way. If the other person feels like you’ve heard them, they are SO MUCH MORE LIKELY to listen to you, too, and be less defensive. Some phrases to help you listen:
- “You really tried hard to ___”
- “It’s difficult to do anything about this now”
- “You’re really concerned about ___”
5. You don’t need to hash out the past, usually. Even though a tenant has waited months for a repair doesn’t mean that they should try to force the landlord to acknowledge the different ways the landlord has messed that up. Or, if some tenants have failed to pay rent a number of times, a landlord doesn’t have to force those tenants to say that they’ve totally bungled it. An agreement for the future doesn’t have to dwell on the past. Some phrases to help you look forward as a problem solving team:
- “You know, it makes a lot of sense why you’d feel ____. I’m having a hard time, too, living with this problem. How do you think we can work it out?”
- “I can see why this is a challenge for you. How do you think we can move forward?”
6. Listen to the other person’s idea for a solution. You don’t have to agree with it AT ALL when you are listening. But, listening carefully to the other person’s idea will make them much, much more likely to listen to yours. Rephrase to the other person’s idea until he/she seems to peter out, like this:
- “So, you think that I need to work on resolving ____”
- “You see the next step as me doing ____”
- “You feel like you can’t take action right now because of ____”
- “You’re waiting until ____ to be able to ____”
7. State your idea for a solution. You don’t need to argue against their idea to put yours forward. Have the mindset that you are a team that is working together to resolve a problem. Convincing them that they are wrong is not a helpful step, but coming to an agreeable middle ground is. Try saying:
- “I’m concerned about waiting that long. Can we work on anything sooner than that?”
- “Would it be possible for you to take [this step] even if you can’t quite manage the whole project right now?”
- “Would it be possible for you to pay $___ even if you can’t manage the whole amount right now?”
8. Write down your agreement, if at all possible. These things are so much more likely to pan out well if it’s in writing. Some tips for getting things in writing are here. Make sure to follow up and thank the other person for taking the time to talk to you.